Harvard, Yale and Princeton are fine, but Neopets gave me more than an Ivy League education.
At its most primal level, Neopets is an online world where you own pets and play games in order to win Neopoints. For a more in depth description, read the Wikipedia page. It’s simple signup process, oversized black fonts on a bright yellow border, and adorable cartoon characters made the website the perfect kid magnet. But unlike tetris or solitaire, this website allowed for massive quantities of creativity. Right around the new millenium, Neopets.com was a website that was popular among elementary and middle school aged children.
I learned all my basic life skills from a couple years and 1-2 hours of playing per day. Here is the breakdown:
How to cultivate relationships: Neofriends, a network of fellow players, were made of real-world classmates and family, online friends and strangers. Neomail with these friends allowed you to keep in touch about potential trades, sales, quests, or life in general. But you would not just friend anyone…you needed to be discerning and make sure there was a good reason someone was friending you.
Real World Application: Neopets was a social media crash-course that taught us how to keep our online relationships alive and how to be safe with web-based strangers.
How to be responsible: You had to feed your Neopet; if you didn’t after a couple days, their hunger level would go from satiated to starving (and their perfect cartoon faces would melt into horror movie grimaces). You also needed to pay attention to your inventory (your shopping cart of goods you collect, buy or win); if you didn’t strategically store those items in a safety deposit box, faeries and ghosts could pop up at any time and steal your items.
Real World Application: Your pets were like children; they needed constant food and attention, no matter how much fun you were having doing other things. Keeping items locked down and out of sight was great practice for studying abroad, living in a metropolitan city, and not getting pick-pocketed.
How to manage time: As a pre-teen, we only had a limited number of hours to play each day. Would you play games for all of Monday’s hour? Would you do research into that paintbrush you have been trying to buy to jazz up your pet? Was today solely a Neo-home design day?
Real World Application: Creating schedules and prioritizing is needed for school, work and travel.
How to deal with money: You could open a store and sell items for any price you chose; once an item was purchased, you had to restock in order to sell more. If designing and expanding a store was not your thing, you could visit the trading post. The Trading Post allowed you to post an ad with the item photo/description, and barter with strangers or friends. The Stock Market was another place you could invest. All games had Neopoint rewards (the harder the game, the more Neopoints), but stocks and stores were ways to make massive, quick profit. The Giving Tree was a place you could donate unneeded, duplicate or inexpensive items. Anyone could click on the Tree and grab the donations (as long as you were quick enough).
Real World Application: Today we have Ebay. We also have stocks. Most importantly though, we have budgets, and we need to know when to invest and when to save. Charities are something we deal with on a daily basis while walking to class near Washington Square Park…Save the Children, Greenpeace and PETA are always ripe with a flyer.
How to be part of a community: Message boards were a way to find new Neofriends, someone selling a certain paintbrush or piece of furniture, game help, or Neo-jokes. With battles, you could compete with other Neopets by using faeries and unique weapons (the winner won a badge or trophy that would be displayed on their profile). Quests would give you a Neo-monetary incentive to track down certain items for the faeries. The Explore tab on the header brought you to the map of Neopia, with lands such as Faerieland, Tyrannia and Terror Mountain. Each land had a completely different terrain, game, food, activity and people.
Real World Application: Globalization and diversity are positive buzzwords now in America (and in most of the rest of the world). Wanderlust and tolerance began in Neopia. Civic engagement is necessary both in real life and on SNS. The gold medals at the Olympics or the New England trophy at your high school were won through sportsmanship. Protests and revolutions are sparked through forums…quests were also great practice for CIA operatives, bounty hunters and stamp collectors.
How to be addicted: Petpets were pretty and cute, but they had absolutely no use, yet you collected hundreds of them (they were the beanie babies of Neopets). You could spend hours on this website, an entire day could go by, but it would feel like twenty minutes.
Real World Application: Many people suffer from or are in some way connected to addiction. From Facebook to cocaine, from shopping-debt to bulimia, we are confronted with it every day
I’m sure being a part of Skull & Bones or sitting in class with future presidents is wonderful, but I’m going to have to thank Neopets for preparing me fully for the competitive, cruel and Poogle-filled world that we live in.
Check out Neopets for yourself here.